Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Packington Free Range in Staffordshire to see a true “family affair”, writes Farmers Club Head Chef Paul Hogben.
I was met at Derby station by John Connolly, who was a great host for the day. We didn’t stop, firstly visiting a local farm shop to see and sample some of Packington’s produce, then on to the family farm and offices before visiting one of their Free Range Pig Farms and Chicken Farms. Wow, what an experience!
Robert and Alex Mercer are fourth generation farmers. Both have had lifetimes of knowledge passed down to them from their father, grandfather and great grandfather.
The family has farmed in rural Staffordshire since 1930 and today the story remains very much the same – it is still very much a family affair.
Like their great grandfather before them, who began farming pedigree large white pigs and award winning dairy cattle, Roger Mercer and his two sons have focussed their experience and passion to provide low density, environmentally sound and welfare oriented farms.
Packington Free Range firmly believes what is good for the animals and the land will naturally be good for the consumer, a continuation of their great grandfather’s approach. They continue to be convinced that this is the key to sustainable food for the long term, enabling them to produce succulent, richly flavoured meat, something often lost in today’s intensive farming methods.
The Mercers have always been very passionate about the environment, introducing new methods of farming that supported their beliefs. In 1997 they entered the Countryside Stewardship scheme introducing 2m and 6m margins around their fields. In 2003 they expanded this to their other holdings, giving 53km of field margins, as well as a introducing a comprehensive hedge laying scheme. All land and livestock are in environmental schemes, encouraging bio-diversity
There is a 1.8mw Solar Farm (10 acres) making farming activities carbon neutral, plus 450Kw of solar on the roofs in the farm yard feeding power to the offices and cold stores. All pig fencing is powered using small solar chargers, and all water for the animals is drawn from boreholes
The business is now in the Higher Level Scheme, which focuses on the ancient flooding meadows, aiming to increase the diversity of traditional English grasses, allowing for many traditional wild flowers and herbs to return. These areas also benefit lapwings and some rare breed birds.
At Packington Free Range they have 7,000 outdoor breeding sows in Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire each producing 10 to 15 piglets per litter, with an average of 2.3 litters per year producing around 201,000 piglets per year, destined for Marks & Spencer under a sole supply contract via Cranswick, or sold directly to butchers and farm shops.
Packington Poultry was started in 2007 where again high standards of bird welfare and environmental sustainability were paramount. The bird houses are like huge trailers that get moved across the field to fresh feeding and sleeping areas for the nights, then opened every morning for the birds to roam all over the fields during the day. No factory produced birds here, just chickens enjoying the country air and the freedom to roam around!
Poultry sales are now at 5500 per week through independent butchers.
I loved my day out to Staffordshire, seeing a couple of the farms that make up Packington Free Range, the way the animals are reared and the great way they are looked after. This is the kind of produce that really appeals to me as l strive to have the best quality British produce on our menus at the Farmers Club, for you the members and your guests to enjoy!
Oh, to be a pig at Packington Free Range!